I'm back from Stanford now! During my trip, I typed up some stuff for the blog... so this entry is pretty long... hope you enjoy it!
Single Serving Friends (29 Nov 2005)
I'm writing this entry at YVR, waiting for my flight to Portland, where I will catch my flight to San Jose to go visit Stanford. I'm typing on my Palm Pilot using a fold up keyboard. God bless technology. On my way through customs I got the usual raised eyebrow when they saw that I had checked "yes" to the question "Is this a business trip?" "And what kind of business are YOU in exactly?" Why do they never believe that I'm on a business trip? When I explained that I was going to visit a lab at Stanford University, their only concern was "They aren't paying you or anything, are they?" No, no, I'm not taking any of your precious money to bring back to the Soviet Canuckistan, no need to worry, God bless America. I saw a man with a sticker with what looked like a picture of a gun on his checked luggage.... should I be scared?
As you know, this is the second of my two trips. I spent a week with Sarah & Dave in Ottawa -- we had a blast... went to a Senators game, went skating, had some good food, and just had a chance to hang out, which was awesome, as we haven't been able to do that since high school. I went to McGill to meet the prof that I may end up posdocing with there. The meeting was shorter than I expected, but it was good... they appear to have lots of fun toys that I could play with and I could probably learn a lot there. Montreal is a very cool city, so lots of fun to be had there (although the cold winters get a thumbs down! Of course, as my mother said, “But, it’s only cold in the winter!”)
On my trip out east, I made a few interesting single serving friends. First, on the flight from YVR to T.O., I sat beside an anesthesiologist from St. Joe's Hospital in T.O. who had done his med school at UBC. We chatted a bit about people we both know at UBC Med School, but mostly we talked about movies we like and showed off our toys to each other (OK, that didn't sound right at all... I meant that he played me songs he liked from his iPod and I showed him my cool periodic table of the elements on my Palm Pilot, and beamed him the game Astroids... get your mind out of the gutter). On my bus back from Montreal to Ottawa, I ended up sitting next to a guy who had been doing his Ph.D. at UBC but, due to the sheer incompetence of UBC, had transferred to Concordia. We spent the 2 hour bus ride complaining about all the thing we hate about UBC, comparing our favourite vegetarian restaurants and discussing how the Canucks will never get through the playoffs with that choker Cloutier in net. All in all, good times. On the flight from Ottawa to Calgary (I couldn't get a direct flight to Vancouver), I made couple of single serving enemies – the flight attendants. When me and the two other people in my row ordered diet Cokes, flight attendant #1 said, "Don't you know this stuff is bad for you?" and so I said, "There is nothing wrong with diet Coke," to which he said, "All that aspartame! Look how much foam there is [he was in the middle of pouring the diet Coke], that can't be good for you." Now, as luck would have it, I had just asked everyone's favourite food scientist, Sarah, why diet pop foams more than regular pop and she had explained that it was due to the aspartame, as protein causes foaming. So I said, "It's due to the protein. It's not harmful." To which flight attendant #2 said, "Protein? Riiiiiiiiiiight!" and rolled his eyes. Now that really bugged me so I explained further, "Aspartame is made up of two amino acids -- phenylalanine and aspartic acid -- and a methyl group... amino acid are the building blocks of protein." So flight attendant #1 said, "So, what, you're a biochemist?" and I said, "Yes, I'm a nutritional biochemist." I don't think they believed me, but the next time they came around with drinks and I ordered a diet Coke, they didn't say anything all to me, and seemed a bit frightened that I’d start arguing with them again. They probably thought I was crazy, but I bet thy won't be bugging people with their "aspartame is made by the devil himself in the seventh layer of hell, I know because I got a spam email about it and spam email never lies" anytime soon. So at least that's something.
Well, I better wrap this up because my Palm Pilot has informed me that my battery is low. This keyboard totally sucks up the battery. Boo-urns.
Why, YVR, Why?
Now I'm in Portland airport, waiting for my flight to San Jose. They have these little workstations where I can plug my Palm Pilot in to charge it up (and use it to type this). It's 11:44 am -- I was supposed to be arriving in SJ in 6 minutes but instead I spent 2 HOURS sitting on the tarmac at YVR because apparently they thought that having just 6 de-icing stations is sufficient for all the planes at the airport. Apparently they thought wrong and so we had to wait for every other plane to get de-iced before it was our turn. We didn't even leave until after my flight to SJ had left Portland, so now I have to wait for the next flight, which won't get me into SJ until 2:30 pm. It's especially annoying because we don't usually get snow in November, so why it had to friggin' snow today of all days is just beyond me. I called the lab that I'm going to visit and they said that I should just go right to the hotel and if I feel like heading out to the lab, they will be there until 5 or 6pm, but if I'm too tired, then I can just go in the morning. I totally want to go in today, since that’s why I'm on this trip, so I hope it doesn’t' take too long to get from SJ airport to my hotel in Palo Alto. There is a shuttle from the hotel to Stanford, which apparently is really close. I printed out a map of Stanford so I hope I can fin my way to the lab!
Anyhoo, I should probably pack this up as my flight boards in about 15 minutes. I didn't get any work done on the Van to Portland flight (slept most of the two hours on the tarmac, read the in-flight magazine on the actual flight -- I'm such a delinquent, so I will try to get some work done on this flight (I brought my Discussion Chapter to work on). My supervisor gave me comments on the first half of the second draft of the lit review and she's currently looking ate the second half. So I really feel like I'm getting somewhere!!!
On A Plane
Now I'm on the plane to San Jose! I don't really have anything to report, but I just want to type on the plane! Actually, I did have something to say, but I thought of it during takeoff and had forgotten it by the time we reached cruising altitude and the seat belt sign had been turned off, meaning we were allowed to use our "portable electronic devices." I must be getting senile in my old age.
Now I Remember!
What I wanted to say was that I forgot to bring my friggin’ Discussion Chapter with me!! I printed out the stuff I needed (‘cuz I didn’t want to lug my laptop around with me and the Palm Pilot screen is to small to do cutting/pasting/rearranging of stuff, which is what I really need to do) and apparently forgot to pack those printouts! D’oh!
San Jose Airport (30 Nov 2005)
Apparently I have somehow angered the airport gods. Got to SJ Airport and was told that my flight to SeaTac is delayed! It was supposed to leave at 3:15 pm, but it's not leaving until 4:20! Tee hee... 4:20! They told me this when I checked in, so I assume that it must be that the plane was delayed leaving wherever it was before (Seattle? I hope this doesn't mean that I'll be delayed leaving SeaTac... since I was to have a 2 hr layover in Seattle, I should still be able to make my connection, provided we don't run into more delays). Anyway, this gives me an opportunity to type up a posting about my visit to Stanford, so here goes:
Arrived at my hotel in Palo Alto around 3:30 pm and managed to not only get to Stanford on the free shuttle bus, but also found my way to the right building, by a bit after 4 pm. Got a chance to talk with the prof and a few of the people who work in the lab at that time and then spent a relaxing evening at the hotel, practiced my talk a bit, called home and then went to bed early (I'm totally exhausted with all the traveling). The prof took me out for breakfast and a little driving tour of Palo Alto (which is so cute!) and got to see some of the Stanford campus (which is also very pretty... lots of beautiful greenery, fountains and some really nice buildings) on the way into the lab. I then had a chance to talk with the people I hadn't talked to the day before (and even got to see one person injecting viruses into chicken embryos... good times!). I gave my talk at the start of the lab meeting and then got to listen to the rest the lab meeting, where they were discussing their most recent data. I didn't fully understand everything they were talking about, but I got the gist of it, and also really got a sense of the breadth of work being done in the lab (and thus, all the really cool things that I can learn there) and also a chance to see how the group interacts. I have to say, I really like the environment in this lab -- it's very laid back, everyone gets along really well and seems to be having lots of fun... but it's still very productive. I also really, really like the attitude of the prof... she seems to keep the big picture in perspective while looking at the fine details (she started the lab meeting with a discussion of bioethics, prompted by something that had been in the news... and at breakfast we discussed issues of scientific integrity and how perseverance is so important to scientific success, since we so often run into technical problems and you can go months and month without things working, which can be really frustrating and many people give up on science early in their training because this is so discouraging). She seems very interested in her post docs' and techs' (doesn't have any grad students) development as scientists and in them as people, not just in what research they can produce for her. I also noticed during the lab meeting that when someone presented some "negative" results (i.e., this particular treatment did not affect the particular parameter they were looking at), she went out of her way to point out that that's a good thing (she got them to establish that this result was reproducible, and the assay had been done correctly and then said "so this is good! This establishes that this hypothesis is not what's happening and now we move onto alternative possibilities).... and I really liked that she went out of her way to make sure that they weren't discouraged by these results (as scientists often are discouraged by so-called "negative results" and it's a pet peeve of mine when people downplay "negative results"). So, all in all, I was quite impressed with the lab -- the research, the things I will get to learn if I go there, and the people, not to mention the opportunities for networking that exist at a place like Stanford in general (and in this lab in particular). Plus, everyone in the lab was drinking diet Coke and, being the diet pop addict that I am, this appeals to me... anyone who drinks diet pop must be good people, right?
When I left, she said that she was going to talk to the people in her lab and that I should think about what I want to do and email her to let her know when would be a good time to talk. I think it's cool that she values the opinions of everyone in the lab, which just reinforces the team aspect of the lab (in fact, one of the postdocs said to me "I don't care if someone doesn't know a particular technique -- we can teach you that -- we can even teach high school kids a technique... but if you can't get along with everyone else, that I can't have"). I just totally got a good vibe from this lab.